‘Complex’ Covid repatriation of Irish stranded in Peru cost €360,000

Over 130 brought home from desert, mountain and jungle regions last March and April

  Machu Picchu in Peru. Photograph: iStock

Machu Picchu in Peru. Photograph: iStock

 

More than €360,000 was spent repatriating 131 Irish citizens and their families from Peru last year when the Latin American nation closed its borders following the coronavirus outbreak, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) records show.

About 10,000 European tourists, including some 160 Irish citizens and their families, became stranded in Peru on March 15th, 2020, when the country’s president announced it was shutting all international borders to non-residents and halting internal travel between Peruvian regions.

Two flights were chartered on March 29th to repatriate Irish and EU citizens following a “complex logistical operation” led by the Irish Embassy in Santiago, Chile, and in collaboration with the Irish honorary consul in Lima. The operation involved organising five separate bus routes across the desert, mountainous and jungle regions of Peru to collect Irish citizens and bring them to a military airport in Lima.

The State spent a total of €361,957.88 on repatriating the 131 citizens and their families to Ireland via Heathrow, with each passenger paying €400 towards the cost.

Difficult journeys

A chartered flight carrying 106 Irish citizens left Peru on March 29th while another 25 Irish people flew back on a British chartered flight. The Irish flight also carried nationals from 11 other EU countries.

“Given that many of our citizens had long and very difficult journeys to get to Lima, and that time was extremely tight, we also worked with the UK to maximise the number of our citizens that could travel on each other’s flights,” Arthur Hendrick from DFA’s consular directorate said.

Email correspondence seen by The Irish Times shows the embassy in Chile initially contacted Irish citizens on March 18th about a potential chartered Avianca flight to London which would cost between $3,000-$3,500 per person (about €2,400-€2,800) and urged those seeking to fly home to register.

On Sunday, March 22nd, the embassy told Irish citizens the Government was organising an evacuation flight with Aer Lingus and British Airways and on Friday, March 27th, it confirmed the flight would take off two days later.

Further correspondence between the embassy and citizens shows bus times and departure locations changed a number of times ahead of the flight’s departure – an indication of the logistical challenges involved in transporting them across a country under full lockdown.

These citizens were stranded in a number of place around Peru, which is about 15 times the size of Ireland. Some 56 people had to be transported from the Andean city of Cusco to Lima, a 22-hour bus journey, while 17 others came by bus from Arequipa, a 16-hour journey to the capital.

30-hour bus journey

Irish people were also transported from the towns and cities of Piura, Máncora, Huanchaco, Trujillo and Huaraz along Peru’s northern coast, with others coming from Pisco, Huacachina and Puno farther south in the country.

Five Irish people were put on a 30-hour bus journey from the jungle cities of Moyobamba and Tarapoto while three people were eventually brought to Lima from Iquitos, a city deep in the Amazonian jungle which is inaccessible by road and can only be reached by plane or boat.

Extra consular assistance was required for those stranded in Iquitos, one of the Latin American cities hit hardest by the pandemic, according to information released by the DFA.

They were among 10 people who were unable to get out of the country on March 29th but were repatriated on flights organised by other European countries in April. This cohort included five Irish citizens and family members who tested positive for the virus and had to quarantine before travelling.

A “significant portion of the costs” of the March repatriation operation is due to be reimbursed by the European Commission’s Union Civil Protection Mechanism, which provides financial support for the repatriation of citizens from EU member states, said the DFA.

The balance will be covered by the special Covid-19 repatriation fund established after the pandemic hit Ireland last March, it added.

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